The cover of a magazine is supposed to get you to stop, look and dig deeper into the pages between the binding. It might be something beautiful, like a face you recognize, a headline or an image that shocks you into needing to know more. National Lampoon was founded in 1970 by Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman, and its covers are lauded as some of the greatest magazine covers of all time. They checked all of the boxes of what a cover should be – the artistic merit was through the roof, and the images were most definitely eye-catching. The covers were also what they shouldn’t be (in the eyes of most publishers), meaning that they weren’t afraid to cross lines of what was considered “P.C.” and published what they wanted… what they KNEW was funny. The comedic slant always came first.
Just from a quick glance at the trailer of the now streaming Netflix film, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, you can gauge the importance of those covers to those who were involved in their creation, and the effect these covers had on the public. In hindsight everything is 20/20 – looking at them now, they’re so clearly brilliant, funny and artistic. But many who saw them at the time couldn’t wrap their heads around what the National Lampoon team was doing (which was changing comedy as the world knew it).
A Futile and Stupid Gesture chronicles the rise of National Lampoon to cultural and comedic fame. Today, we present you some of our favorite and most infamous covers. We’ve included the cover notes from the magazine’s art directors when possible (which are prettyyyy amazing).